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Sunset Tee’s Named Blowing Rock Business of the Year; BRAHM, Others Win Awards at Annual Ceremony

By Paul T. Choate

Sunset Tee's and Hattery took home the prestigious Business of the Year award on Tuesday. Photo by Paul T. Choate
Sunset Tee’s and Hattery took home the prestigious Business of the Year award on Tuesday. Photo by Paul T. Choate

Feb. 12, 2013. The Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual Awards Ceremony and Luncheon on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the Meadowbrook Inn. In total, 27 local businesses and individuals have been nominated for eight different awards and 118 people turned out to see who the winners would be. 

Prior to the awards ceremony, John Aldridge, president of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, said 2013 is very important for Blowing Rock. He said some businesses have still been trying to find their way back from the collapse of the economy and many have been working extremely hard.

“You’ve got some tired business owners in Blowing Rock — particularly our retailers,” Aldridge said. “If you see them, give them a hug.”

Aldridge said this year the Chamber would be focusing on three primary things. 

  1. The three E’s – events, education and economic development;
  2. Sponsoring six “Help Us Help You” business summits throughout the year; and
  3. Increased focus on looking at ways to bring people to Blowing Rock in slow months such as February and March, for example.

“You can count on your Chamber to be enthusiastically working on this,” Aldridge said.

Following a luncheon catered by the Meadowbrook Inn, the awards ceremony began with High Country Radio News Director Steve Frank emceeing the event.

Timberlake's Restaurant at Chetola won the Commercial Renovation Award. Photo by Paul T. Choate
Timberlake’s Restaurant at Chetola won the Commercial Renovation Award. Photo by Paul T. Choate

The first award given out was the Commercial Renovation Award. This award is given in recognition of the outstanding renovation of a business space completed in 2012. Timberlake’s Restaurant at Chetola was determined the best renovation of 2012.

After a kitchen fire put Manor House restaurant out of commission in August 2011, Chetola decided to turn bad luck into something great and completely renovated the restaurant. The brand-new restaurant features a spectacular redesign offering waterfront dining on Chetola Lake. On Saturday, July 28, 2012, Chetola officially opened Timberlake’s Restaurant, featuring a menu inspired by North Carolina artist and designer Bob Timberlake’s culinary favorites.

The other nominee was Samaritan’s Purse for their renovation of the Hayes Performing Arts Center. 

Next up was the New Construction Award. It is given in recognition of the outstanding new building of a business space completed in 2012. The nominees were Subway, the Marriott Courtyard, the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University and Camp Sky Ranch & Sky Valley Zip Tours.

Subway was the winner of the New Construction Award. Photo by Paul T. Choate
Subway was the winner of the New Construction Award. Photo by Paul T. Choate

Subway owners Rick and Kristin Sokolnicki were awarded the New Construction Award. In 2011, the Sokolnickis lost their Subway location due to the widening of U.S. 321 in Blowing Rock. But they hung on to their franchise while working elsewhere to make ends meet, all the while looking for a new location. They persevered and finally found a new location – a rundown warehouse of sorts. They converted the warehouse into a beautiful new Subway with a lovely view of the area, thus providing residents and workers an inexpensive, fast food option that Blowing Rock doesn’t otherwise have.

Frank then announced the Award for Cultural Enrichment candidates. The award is given to the member business or organization that has made a significant cultural contribution to our community for the year 2012. This includes installation, development or production of visual or performing arts, a literary or written contribution, or for the development or preservation of an artifact, place, event, cuisine, garden, or way of life of historical or social importance to Blowing Rock. Nominees included the Blowing Rock Historical Society’s Artist in Residence series, 50 years of Art in the Park, the Watauga Education Foundation (WEF) and the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum (BRAHM). 

Taking the award was BRAHM, with Executive Director Joann Mitchell taking the podium to accept. 

BRAHM Executive Director Joann Mitchell accepts the Award for Cultural Enrichment. Photo by Paul T. Choate
BRAHM Executive Director Joann Mitchell accepts the Award for Cultural Enrichment. Photo by Paul T. Choate

The museum opened to the public in October 2011. With six galleries totaling 4,500 square feet and more than 400 linear feet of hanging space, the museum displays rotating exhibits along with selections from its permanent collection. It hosts the Third Thursday Speaker Series and an annual Art and Antiques Show. Educational programming and art and history classes are offered for all ages in a 1,500-square-foot Education Center. In addition to all that, the museum will also take your kids off your hands on snow days as part of their Snow Day Camp, which is held in partnership with Chetola Resort.

The Award for Service to Community was up next. It is given to the member business or organization which makes positive contributions to the Blowing Rock Community through volunteerism, philanthropy, or community service. Nominees made a measurable impact toward the improvement of an issue of importance to the Blowing Rock Community; they included, Woodland’s, Blowing Rock C.A.R.E.S. and the Blowing Rock Methodist Church. 

Although all were deserving, Woodland’s was named the winner. In the past year, Woodland’s held several such events where they donated the profits of their food sales in one night to worthy causes. There was the benefit for Blowing Rock native, Randy Ruppert, who had faced many surgeries, and was in the intensive care unit of Baptist Hospital. Ruppert, the owner and operator of Ruppert’s Plumbing, had his business in the area for over 50 years. During the busy holiday season, Woodland’s helped prepare Thanksgiving Dinner for the Hospitality House in Watauga County by preparing all of the turkeys and hams. Woodland’s was also one of the area restaurants that participated in the seventh annual Celebrity Serve, in which local celebrities worked a shift at area restaurants, serving food, fun and funds to benefit the Watauga Rescue Squad.

Dana Addison, Airhaven Limo driver, was next to take an award, winning the Customer Service Star of the Year. Addison frequently drives an Airhaven trolly on Saturdays for Art in the Park. One such Saturday, he stopped his trolley at an unofficial pick-up site on one end of Main Street to give a lift to an elderly visitor to the opposite end of the street because he appeared to be having trouble walking. Now that’s customer service.

Other nominees included, Jenn Phillips Carson, of Timberlake’s Restaurant; Mayra Lozano, of The Last Straw; Lindsey Tester, of United Community Bank; and Justus Hudgins, of Outback Steakhouse. 

For the first time in the annual awards ceremony’s history, there was a tie for one of the awards. Sharing the award for Volunteer of the Year were Lynn Hill, of Art in the Park, and Ray Pickett, a participant on several committees including Winterfest, Wine Festival and Economic Development who also provides miscellaneous handy man work from trimming/planning door facings to checking electrical and plumbing needs for the Chamber’s office.

Next up was the Jerry Burns Ambassadorial Award, which celebrates the enthusiasm of Blowing Rock’s most ardent supporter. This award will be presented to an individual who exemplifies the ambassadorial spirit of the late Jerry Burns. Nominees included Betsy Collins, Ginny Stevens and the Tarbutton brothers, Greg and Kent.

Betsy Collins accepts the Jerry Burns Ambassadorial Award. Photo by Paul T. Choate
Betsy Collins accepts the Jerry Burns Ambassadorial Award. Photo by Paul T. Choate

Collins was named the ambassador of the year. She is an ardent supporter of Blowing Rock, having not only served on the Chamber’s Board of Directors for five years and chaired the Membership Committee, but also raised $20,000 for the annual Wine and Food Festival and brought in Auto Trader as a sponsor. She also obtained Hendrick Automotive as a sponsor and recruited Patra Wansley to open a second business location in Southmarke, The Gilded Lily By Patra. In addition, she frequents many of area restaurants all the while “talking up” Blowing Rock and its businesses. 

Finally, Frank announced the most prestigious award of them all — Blowing Rock’s Business of the Year. The winner of this award excels in areas of community involvement, business promotion and teamwork. The Business of the Year reflects the best of Blowing Rock, demonstrating high ethical standards and community spirit in accordance with the mission of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce. Nominees included Sunset Tee’s and Hattery, the Blue Ridge Mountain Club and Kilwin’s. 

All of these businesses contribute greatly to the economy of Blowing Rock, but only one could be Business of the Year and that business was Sunset Tee’s and Hattery.

“They opened their doors in 1982 and really haven’t shut them since,” Frank said. “When the night calls for a stroll down Main Street after dinner, you know with certainty that Sunset Tee’s will be open.”

Sunset Tee’s and Hattery sell items that make visitors and locals smile — from old-fashioned candy to coonskin hats. When autumn arrives, heirloom apples are offered for sale; when snow falls, there are sleds for the kids and snow shovels for the adults. If it’s raining, umbrellas are there waiting to be purchased. On top of that, there is their service to community – they formed the merchant’s association and they can always be counted on to provide a door prize for an event, support the Chamber or just lend a helping hand.

For more information on the awards ceremony or any other happenings in Blowing Rock, contact the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce at 828-295-7851 or visit blowingrockncchamber.com.